I had something else planned for my introduction to this month’s newsletter, but that will have to wait until February for reasons you’ll soon understand.
As I’ve mentioned before, this newsletter is read by more than just our clients. We have 2,000 subscribers and a monthly open rate of 65 to 70 percent. This means every month, 1,400 people are taking a peek at what we share. But there weren’t 2,000 people in the beginning, or even 200. As some may have read in Odds On, we started Hill Investment Group with 0 clients. Rick and I made an agreement with our former firm that allowed us to talk with a small number of relationships, many of whom decided to join us.
One of those “founding” clients passed away recently, and I want to tell you about him. His name was George.
George was a husband, a dad, a grandfather, a friend to many, a diehard North Carolina Tarheel basketball fan, an avid golfer, a former lawyer for the king of beers, a lover of his dog Maggie Mae, and someone who made a profound impact on Hill Investment Group. He also affected me, creating images and memories in my mind that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Like most of us, George started as a very different investor. He was an old-school active investor, buying stocks and trading options and spending too much time and energy trying to outperform the market. All he got in return was too much stress and unsatisfying results.
It took three meetings over six months to convince him to convert to an evidence-based approach. It didn’t hurt that his former employer, Anheuser-Busch, had switched to index funds in the mid-80s, so elements of that story helped push George a little closer to accepting our data-driven approach. Once he made the change, he never looked back and became a raving fan.
When you had George on your side, he was an unstoppable force–the type to put his arm around you and emphatically introduce us by saying, “These are my guys. You should talk with them.” He suggested his family members work with us, neighbors, friends, golf partners, colleagues, and so on. Because he had both relationships and influence, people listened to him.
George approached everything he loved with that same enthusiasm. We once gave him a basketball signed by the coach of his favorite team. To make it perfect for him, we looked all over town for a plexiglass case to display the ball, then wrapped it and presented it as a special gift for all of his support. George tore open the paper, ripped the plexiglass apart, threw it all away, and carried the naked ball home. We tried to stop him and gather the plexiglass display case, but he didn’t want or need it. He blasted right through it and was on to his next adventure.
That was George’s typical speed. Once, he hollered at a golf marshal that play was too slow. The marshal calmly reminded George that he had just returned to St. Louis from Florida and may have forgotten to adjust his watch. The front nine had only taken two hours (right on time), not three. George laughed, saying, “Well, it felt long playing with these guys!”
Becoming a Hill Investment Group client gave George both peace of mind about his portfolio and more time to pursue the things he loved. He took trips worldwide, had a custom wooden boat crafted and named for his beloved wife, Joanie, and built a house on Martha’s Vineyard. Once the house was completed, he hosted a dinner to thank Hill Investment Group for helping make their dream home a reality. George’s generous toast at the dinner is still one of the highlights of my career.
George embodied everything we hope for our clients and validated why we started this firm: to improve our clients’ lives. George said it best when he uttered a famous line in Hill Investment Group lore: “The only thing I fear now is a downhill, sidehill three-foot putt. My worries are different thanks to you all.”
In 2019, John Reagan and I took our spouses to visit George and Joan on Martha’s Vineyard (see photo). George created an itinerary that wore us out (and I’m 30 years younger). I slept like a baby on that trip. George did, too, on the final night. He took us to a private club—one he didn’t even belong to (except through an old reciprocal that had long expired)—for a splendid dinner where we were treated like royalty. Afterward, we drank, told stories, laughed, and finally, he fell asleep in his chair with his dog at his side as I tried to keep my eyes open through the remainder of the documentary he had selected.
George lived a rich life. He made things happen. He used his influence for good. He created memories. He helped our firm. He took the long view and was proud of it.
I’m lucky to have known him.